What To Do When You Don’t Have A Clue Where To Go Next

Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.”

– Rosalia de Castro

The first couple of steps towards a goal is the hardest.

I wonder if every new day is just that, a new step. Never an old, tired one. We wake up, and the window’s wiped clean, and in comes a sun we had never seen before. There are new possibilities, several different ways in which things could end up, you never really know where you are going, but you do have an idea of where you would like to end up.

Not Knowing Where I Am Going In My Writing

When I write, I often let the journey happen first. I let it all spill out, in its raw form. From beginning to end. This may be different from other authors, but I like the journey, the not knowing what’s going to happen as I travel down the path. At this point I am only a reader, a watcher, an observer of the events as they unfold. I don’t take many notes at first, I just let the birth of a new river take shape, let the water cut through the sand and anchor itself deep within the earth.

Not everything comes at once, but enough does. Enough to have a good idea of where the story needs to go, of what I need to do to return and flesh out a character, create a motive–how I might have to set up certain plot shifts.

But the initial tale is set, and sometimes you feel like you are the first explorer of a brave new world. What you discover, and the wonders that you find, you have to keep secret and closed to those around you, because you can’t possibly describe it all in one sitting. You don’t want to. You need time to perfect its telling. It’s a good story, you know, but you have to be able to tell it well. Why? Because you are the only who has made that journey, the only one who has a key to that magical world, where everything is so different, exciting and new.

You wish you could bring everyone along with you, you wish, but you can’t. So you have to get really good at telling everyone about it. And in the meantime it can drive you crazy that you have to keep it all to yourself until the time has come. Secrets too large to fall all at once.

After the very first journey, I must retrace his steps.  So again, it may seem that I am taking a first step, even though I have been there before. It’s like waking up each new day, with a new sun and a new way of seeing the world.

Not Knowing Where I Am Going In My Life

Writing along the uncertain path of life is a lot easier than Riding it, however.

Unlike Rosalio de Castro, I am not sure that not knowing my life path inspires me to take it, but I want to make it so. Generally, the truth is I feel great fear, impatience, and uncertainty–not much inspiration.

But I am not alone in this. Not only us writers, but we are all beginning a new path, each in our own way, and we may not know where it will lead us and what detours we may have to take to get there. We are all afraid, uncertain, and impatient, wanting to get at the end already. When we begin, the end seems very very very far away. That’s why our lives sometimes may seem too daunting, too big, too insurmountable.

I want to learn from the wisdom of this quote and take it to heart. That the uncertainty of this path, of my life, of the process of writing this story, may lead me to be excited about life, instead of dreading it. That it might inspire me, that it might infuse me with vitality and strength. All we seem to live with is uncertainty, so I’d imagine being able to cherish it would bring us great peace and joy.

Writers, out of all people, may be able to take on this idea more easily. Uncertainty is what great stories thrive on, it’s what makes us excited about writing and about reading. Maybe we can imagine our lives as a story that is unfolding. After we experience a dramatic climax, instead of fearing it getting worse, or leading to disaster… maybe we could wonder, is it time to prepare for the dénouement?

If we begin to falter, maybe we can ask ourselves:  “What kind of hero would I be if I gave up, just as I began?”  So, we trudge along, enduring the worst of life’s sufferings, in order to, at least, find out what happens to us in the end.

If we seem too imperfect and hesitant, we can ask ourselves:  “How would I look to the outside world if I approached each challenge, each new subsequent event with fear and indecision?”  As human, maybe.

Then good.  What’s wrong with that?

Too perfect, and no one would read you. With all of your flaws and mistakes, your audience will gobble you up. So, writers, cherish your uncertainty, embrace your shortfalls, make friends with indecision. Let it all inspire you, instead of bring you down.

much love,


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13 comments on “What To Do When You Don’t Have A Clue Where To Go Next

  1. Yes,Yes,Yes,Ollin! it’s all about getting in touch with our own uniqueness, flaws and all. It’s our humanness that makes our stories compelling. What a great message to kick off the New Year! Love your statement about” looking human~what’s wrong with that?” Inspiration not degradation~Onward.
    Happy New Year!

    • Ollin says:

      I love that. Embracing our humanness. Very true. It think when I wrote this about 2 years ago I didn’t know where I was even going in writing it, lol. But I see now that it ended up in a very moving place.

  2. Kari Scare says:

    Your quote “Uncertainty is what great stories thrive on, it’s what makes us excited about writing and about reading” struck a chord with me. There is a pardox within me: I love uncertainty, and I also love having everything planned out perfectly… and I want these to always happen at the same time. But, as you know, they cannot. Instead, I plan where I can and then adapt when uncertainty hits. I love to read because of the uncertainty as well as because of the expected path of the process that reading always takes me down. Come to think of it, those are the same reasons I love to write.

    • Ollin says:

      Embracing uncertainty is an ongoing process. Don’t be so hard on yourself if you always go back on it. Sometimes I forget just to let go and allow the uncertainty of life to take its course. It’s a very challenging lesson.

  3. Hello Ollin,
    … and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
    I totally love this line; “All we seem to live with is uncertainty, so I’d imagine being able to cherish it would bring us great peace and joy.”
    I think that this may be an ultimate truth since we will always live with uncertainty. The difficulty lies in trusting enough in ourselves and the Universe to accept that what comes to us may not always be wonderful, but it will be what we need.
    I suspect that my real fear is that I won’t learn lessons fast enough to get through them in time… LOL. But the reality, is that embracing the uncertainty is really the only option.
    Thank you for writing this! I am so glad I came by.

    • Ollin says:

      Hey Jennifer,

      Happy New Year to you, too! As my second year of blogging comes to a close, it’s good to know that I still have some readers around who have been with me since the beginning. Thank you for taking the time to keep dropping by and sharing your thoughts!

  4. Madman says:

    “All we seem to live with is uncertainty, so I’d imagine being able to cherish it would bring us great peace and joy.”
    Isn’t this summed up with the old roman saying “Carpe Diem”? Instead of being scared by the future, full of uncertainty and fear, lets enjoy the present and its tangible moments.
    I love reading you Ollin, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us 🙂
    – Pierre

  5. l0ve0utl0ud says:

    I love this post! It is very relevant to me today. I have made a life-decision, but I have no idea where it will take me. This scares me…but your post reassures me 🙂

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